Thursday, July 31, 2008

Road Trip 2008: T. Rex at the Oregon Zoo


Overheard at the 0:29 mark: "These aren't real, right?"

On the afternoon of Day 2 of our Oregon trip we walked across the street from....

...the Portland Children's Museum to see the Dinosaur exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. It was pretty neat and the robotic animals were impressive and definitely scary for the younger kids!

Red Lobster in Salem, Oregon


Red Lobster, Salem, Oregon
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
We went down to Oregon last week for a few nights and no trip to the United States would be complete without a trip to a Red Lobster restaurant :0)

This was Day 2 after spending the day at the Portland Children's Museum to tie-dye some T-shirts and the Oregon Zoo to see their robotic Dinosaur exhibit. We stopped at the Woodburn Company Stores outlet mall to exchange a shirt I had bought and went down to Salem for dinner. Service was very good and super fast and the food was delicious!

I brought along my Sony GPS data logger again, but I've had some problems matching up the photos with the data. I guess I hadn't used it in about a year and the unit had a hard time syncing with the nav satellites. All the data was offset buy a few hours. I'll try to upload the other pictures when I get a chance.

This picture is geotagged but I did it manually through Google Earth. You can view it on the Flickr Map.

Intec Cooling Station for Wii

I bought the Intec Cooling Station for Wii from Best Buy for $10. It's a USB fan that plugs into the back of the Wii and directs air to help keep it cool. I've had success using USB laptop fans to keep my HD-PVR and A/V receiver cool so I thought I would try it with the Wii.

It works as advertised, however, it is powered and running all the time. Since it blocks the USB ports in the back, there is one extra port on the side for you to use. I'll have to buy a USB hub because I still need one more port so I can plug the Rock Band drums and a couple of microphones at the same time.

The biggest problem with the Cooling Station for the Wii is that it's very noisy. It's not a big deal when you're watching TV or playing a game because it's not noticeable, but when the room is quiet the fan seems very loud.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Test Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV


Summary: 2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV

PROS: 6.2L V8 engine with 403 HP; throaty engine rumble; massive cargo area behind 3rd row; HID headlights; LED tail lights; chrome grille; 22" wheels; rear entertainment system with TWO roof-mounted LCD screens; it's an Escalade!

CONS: Massive length; no fancy gadgets; interior not as luxurious as expected; it's an Escalade! (possibly attracting unwanted attention?)
____________________

GM Canada is offering huge incentives on new 2008 Cadillac Escalades right now which include $16,000 back and a discount gas card on 2500 L (over 650 gallons) of fuel for cash purchases. At the same time, I know from looking through the classifieds that....

...there are a lot of used Escalades on the market for significantly reduced prices. That's why I decided to take a look at them. They were redesigned in 2007 and according to the reviews I've read there were a lot of improvements in handling as well as some subtle visual changes.

Last Friday we went back to the dealership to take a second look and test drove a used 2007 Escalade ESV that had been imported from the US. In fact, all the used Escalades on the GM dealer's lot were imported. It goes to show how the strength of the Canadian dollar has made US imports so attractive even for the dealers. The ESV is the extended version of the Escalade that makes it about the same size of the Chevrolet Suburban. When we looked at the regular Escalade, we could see that the cargo space was not usuable (about on par with the Land Rover LR3). The ESV/Suburban offers the most space behind the 3rd row out of all the vehicles we've looked at.

One of the first things the salesperson showed us on the Escalade was the standard remote start. He pressed a button on the key fob and the engine roared to life. And boy, what a roar it was. The 403 HP V8 has such a pleasurable low rumble that it encourages you to turn off the stereo so that you can hear the music coming from the exhaust pipes.


Getting inside the Escalade we could see that it was much more luxurious than its cheaper Suburban/Yukon siblings. The wood-trimmed steering wheel felt very nice and the leather seats were supple. The trim on the dash and the appearance of the gauges gave you a sense that you were sitting in a different class of vehicle. Third row seating is not as well designed and functional as other vehicles we've looked at and would only be for children. Unfortunately, the buttons and switches and overall layout of the controls, the storage areas, arm rests and just about everything else, showed GM DNA through and through and never let me forget that I was in a domestic vehicle. It was disappointing looking at the interior and seeing all the things it had in common with the lowly Suburban:


Another thing I was disappointed with is that the Escalade doesn't seem to have any fancy feature to show-off about. There's no gadget that reminds you that you're not in any ordinary vehicle. James Bond never drove an ordinary vehicle. Neither did Batman. If I'm buying the luxury SUV that rappers sing about, I want to have some kind of special Bat-gadget more than just a second LCD screen. The Land Rover LR3 has a refrigerated cooler box and automatically rises and lowers 2" to make it easier to get in and out. The Mercedes GL450 has a "Tunnel mode" which closes all windows and the sunroof if the recirculation button is pressed when entering an underground parkade or tunnel. Earlier models of the Escalade had heated and cooled cup-holders, but it was removed in 2007. I want a Bat-gadget!

On the road the Escalade handled quite well for its size, although it was definitely truck-like. It doesn't look as massive as the Toyota Sequoia because unlike the Sequoia which looks like it bulked up on steroids, the Escalade has flat and smooth body panels that hide its width. It's not until you get up next to it and look at how long it is do you realize that the ESV would probably do fine sitting on train tracks behind some locomotives. The 6.2 L engine hauled the Escalade quite easily and with a heavy foot pulls away from other traffic to make them disappear in your rear view mirror with great satisfaction.

One thing disappointed me when I tested the Escalade in a quick left turn. I trail-braked into the turn and just past the apex I pressed the throttle to accelerate only to find that the traction control cut power to the engine mid-turn. I expected the AWD to pull me out of the turn, not leave the gas pedal lifeless. I guess it's no Subaru! On second thought, unlike Canadian-spec Escalades that come with AWD standard, since this was a US-spec vehicle, maybe it was only RWD and that's why the fun-spoiler kicked in so quickly.

The question is whether the Escalade's gorgeous looks and charismatic presence can overcome the fact that it's shallow and empty on the inside. One night stand or long-term relationship?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Platinum - 2nd Drive

I went back for another test drive of the 2008 Toyota Sequoia Platinum today. It was slightly rainy and we were given a black one (instead of the white we got last time). I'm glad I got to see this colour scheme because it made the interior look way better (less cheap) than I remembered.

I also confirmed my initial impressions about the Sequoia's ride quality: the Platinum trim level definitely makes the Sequoia feel much smaller than it really is. The difference in ride quality between it and the Limited is noticeable and significant.

While the Limited handled well, it still felt like a truck. I'd say that with the adaptive suspension set on the Comfort, the Platinum is slightly better (has less lean) than the Limited. I liked the Sport setting the best because it made the Sequoia flat in almost all turns. Maybe the way it handled made me....

...believe that throttle response was better.

We also fit all four kids and 3 car seats (1x forward-facing in 2nd row plus 2x high-back booster in 3rd row with a child in middle) and found that passenger room and comfort in the Sequoia was indeed more than our Odyssey. What I also found interesting was that it was actually easier to fit the forward-facing car seat in the Sequoia because the LATCH setup is much easier to access than in our Honda Oddity. In the Sequoia the tether anchor is on the seat back, but in Honda it's on the floor under the seat and the anchor bar itself is thicker making it difficult to actually make the connection without forcing/bending the hook. Our Peg Perego Pliko P3 stroller fit no problem behind the Sequoia's third row. There is also a recessed area in the back that would allow us to stack more things on top if needed.

One more thing in Canada, the Limited is NOT available with a back-up camera which makes a HUGE difference in the ease of parking.

So because of the handling and the rear-camera, I would sacrifice the 8th seat to choose the Platinum over the Limited.


Friday, July 25, 2008

It actually fits in our garage!

Shhh.... don't tell anyone, but we actually checked out a 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV last week. ESV is the extended version and is about 19' feet long. It has tons of cargo space behind the third row, and yes, looks....

...a bit barge-like. The interior is finished really nicely though, and the rear entertainment system comes standard with 2 roof-mounted LCD screens. The 22" chrome rims fit the Escalade's image as does the loud rumble of the top-in-class 403 HP V8 engine.

When I got home I took the tape-measure out and discovered that with a little re-arranging, we would be able to fit the Escalade ESV completely inside our garage.

During our road trip to Portland, Oregon, I decided to count how many Escalades, Mercedes GL-Class, and new Toyota Sequoias we saw on the road. This was the final count:

Escalades = 14
GL-Class = 2
2008 Sequoia = 2

We also saw tons (literally) of Suburbans (which are about the same size as the Escalade ESV).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Honda Odyssey Washed and Waxed


Honda Odyssey in HDR
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
I had the our Honda Oddity washed and waxed today in preparation for our road trip next week. And since it was all clean and shiny I decided to take some fresh pictures.

After more than a week of sunshine, it clouded over today--a perfect opportunity for me to try some HDR pictures. I know it looks like a fall picture, bur for some reason our Coral Bark maple tree isn't doing so well this year.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Subaru Impreza WRX STI: Camera Mount


After getting the RAM mount for my STI and testing it out, I realized that I didn't post any pictures of how it actually fit. It worked out quite well except that there wasn't enough clearance for me to use my Sony DCR-PC1000 camcorder. If the arm was longer, I could probably have extended it out more away from the rear window and have enough clearance. I think RAM sells longer length arms so that's always an option for me in the future. A longer arm will also....

...allow me to put the mount on my Suzuki Burgman. Luckily, my point-and-shoot camera fit fine and with a 4BG memory stick I was able to record almost an hour's worth of video. In terms of track time, that meant I could record two full 25 min. sessions.


What I like about this type of mount was that I was able to attach it to one of the child tether anchors on the rear shelf without having to make any modifications to the STI.

Friday, July 11, 2008

So, now what?

This week I've looked at 3 different vehicles to be possible candidates to replace our Honda Odyssey and Subaru Impreza STI: The 2008 Land Rover LR3, the 2008 Toyota Sequoia, and the 2009 Honda Pilot. In the end, I feel like I've just ended up where I started from. There is no perfect vehicle and choosing one is a matter of choosing which compromises I'm going to be willing to live with.

The truth of it is, I think our Honda Odyssey is a pretty good vehicle for us despite my shallowness in refusing to accept the fact that we are a minivan family. Maybe for passenger space it's not the best and it doesn't have 4WD, but it sure excels in cargo space and convenience. (And don't tell anyone, but sometimes I look at our minivan and I think it looks pretty good--for a minivan.) It's really hard to justify making a change in vehicles for only minor improvements in certain areas while giving up things in other areas.

So, now what? I have such a short attention span that I don't think I'm ever going to stop looking at new vehicles and new ways to spend money. But maybe I can hold off on getting rid of the minivan if I can make it more cool. Maybe something like new 20" wheels....



Tire Rack, here I come!

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited--Second Look

I went back this morning to test drive a 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited. On Monday, I had driven the top-line Platinum trim level and wanted to see if there was any difference in the ride quality. The Limited offers an 8th seat in the second row, but lacks the front and rear Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) that allows you to choose between Sport, Normal, or Comfort settings that the Platinum has....

When I drove the Platinum, I was quite impressed and stepped out of the driver's seat feeling that I had been behind the wheel of something much smaller. Somehow the Sequoia's massive size was hidden and it didn't ride or handle like the huge truck it was.

I brought my 3 oldest girls along so that they could all sit in the 2nd row, booster seats and all. This time we brought the back-less booster seats because they have a wider base than our Britax Parkways. There was no problem fitting the two boosters side-by-side and then having our oldest child sitting next to them. Neither encroached into the other's personal space and everyone was happy.

On the other hand, I was a little more puzzled. I drove the same route I did earlier in the week, but today this Sequoia did not feel the same. I didn't feel that it was sporty at all. The ride was comfortable enough but it just seemed to lack the firmness that allowed me to forget how big the Sequoia was. There was just enough body roll to remind me that I was driving a huge truck.

Throttle response didn't seem as quick either. I don't know why. Both trim levels have the same 5.7L V8 381 HP engine and the same six-speed transmission with Sport mode. I paid more attention to Sport mode and I discovered that it basically puts the Sequoia into 4th gear all the time. It does not downshift when you come to a stop and it does not upshift as you gain speed. There was enough torque so that pulling away starting in 4th gear was no problem at all. Fifth and 6th gears were just over drive gears so even when I got up to 80 km/h (50 mph) the engine was not reving too hard in 4th. It just didn't seem to have the instant response I thought it had the first time I tried it.

I tried manually shifting myself, starting in 1st and going up the gears but that didn't seem to improve things. That mode seemed more suited for heavy towing. I also noticed that it didn't seem as quiet as I remembered. When I accelerated to do a 40 km/h to 70 km/h pass, I could clearly hear the roar of the engine as I sped up.

For the last test, I took the Sequoia into a big-box strip mall to see how it handled parking lots. Here in Canada, I find that the average size of our parking spaces are much smaller than parking spaces we encountered across the USA. One of things I grew tired of our old 2003 Sequoia, was its size in shopping mall parking lots. I found a wide spot between two cars and was able to get the Sequoia in there OK, but it definitely felt tight. The Limited trim level does not come with a back-up camera and it was really missed. Backing out of the parking spot was difficult because despite the parking sensors, it was really hard to tell how much clearance I had in the back. I'm sure it's just a matter of learning the Sequoia's dimensions, but it really wasn't fun and the usual reverse-and-drive-away that I would do in the Odyssey, in the Sequoia became: reverse-forward-reverse-forward-reverse-and-drive-away.

I found out that a backup camera accessory is available for the Limited trim level. Because there is no Navigation screen, a small auxiliary screen is mounted on the overhead console to display the rear view. The screen looks bigger than the screen that's built in to the 2009 Honda Pilot's rear-view mirror, but I'm worried about it being too small, too.

So, now what? It seems like I'm going to have to test drive another Sequoia Platinum again to make sure my first impressions were not wrong. I called another dealership to see if they had any Sequoias and they said they would not be getting any more for another 3 or 4 months and that it would probably be a 2009 model. The salesperson mentioned, too, that one of the changes for 2009 was that the SR5 would be available with the 5.7L engine. I left my number and told him to give me a call when he got a Sequoia Platinum in for me to test drive.

Test Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L

SUMMARY: 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L

PROS: Mid-size SUV with 8-passenger seating, improved looks, 4WD traction, well-designed storage area behind 3rd row.

CONS: Average handling and performance; Canadian MSRP for Touring trim (NAV + RES) is $10,000 more than US MSRP.
____________________

Yesterday afternoon I went out to the Honda dealership to show my wife the new 2009 Honda Pilot. This is the newly redesigned 2nd generation that has a controversial boxier look and new grille. A lot of people comment online about how much they dislike (hate) the look, but I like it.


I actually like it much better than the original Pilot which I thought looked too bland....

This was my second look at it. After the first time, I got quite excited because I could see how wide the 2nd row was. Honda provides 3 LATCH attachments in the 2nd row in addition to one more in the 3rd row. This is more than most vehicles of this size. I was also excited because on YouTube I found more information about the storage area behind the 3rd row. What the Pilot offers us over our Odyssey is 8-passenger capacity and 4WD. Because we live near the top of a mountain above the snow line, this past winter we found that we had trouble getting into our driveway even with 4 winter tires on our Odyssey.

Just like the 2008 Toyota Sequoia, there is a nice space behind the 3rd row that is wide enough for our Peg Perego Pliko P3 stroller. Also just like the Sequoia, there is a cover over a recessed area that you can remove to fit taller items. In the case of the Pilot, this recessed area is deeper than the Sequoia and Honda has incorporated a hanging net that can be used as a 2nd tier storage area. I really like this efficient use of space. In the videos I saw this space was large enough to put a cooler and extra bags and folding chairs--perfect for a family picnic!

Now the seating area is not as roomy as the Sequoia, but it also isn't as massively huge. Parked next to the Odyssey, the Pilot's hood and roof lines were obviously higher, but the length seemed almost the same. It seems to be a good compromise. We put our two Britax Parkway booster seats in the 3rd row and it looked to be about as wide as our Odyssey. Also, being a Honda, the Pilot Touring has things that we are familiar with and appreciate very much on our Odyssey like the navigation and rear-entertainment system. An advantage of the Pilot is that you don't need to get the navigation system in order to have a rear back-up camera. Without the nav system, the rear camera is displayed in a small 2" screen in built into the rear view mirror whenever the vehicle is put into reverse. While in drive, the screen magically disappears and you have your full rear-view mirror again. Unfortunately, I found it hard to see things in this tiny screen and much prefer the rear camera being displayed on the large Nav system screen. It would not be a problem for us because the Touring trim comes with the Nav system standard. There are some other nice touches in the interior including a hood to shade the navigation screen (which is missing in the Ody) and storage above the glove box for the passenger to place items like cell phones and pens, etc.

I didn't get very long behind the wheel, but from what I could tell the 2009 Pilot handled just as well as our Odyssey. Like the Odyssey, it is a large heavy vehicle that is designed to be practical. It would have been nice if it could be a little sporty, too. Somehow I don't think the 250 HP engine is going to be up to the task without some serious peddle mashing--not like that's ever stopped me before!


SUMMARY: 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L

PROS: Mid-size SUV with 8-passenger seating, improved looks, 4WD traction, well-designed storage area behind 3rd row.

CONS: Average handling and performance; Canadian MSRP for Touring trim (NAV + RES) is $10,000 more than US MSRP.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Platinum


Summary: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Platinum

PROS: 5.7L V8 engine with 381 HP, firm handling, and 6-speed transmission all hide its massive size; low-gear transfer case for off-roading; space behind 3rd row is enough to fit Peg Perego Pliko P3 stroller.

CONS: Massive size; restrictive navigation system; Nav/backup camera only available on Platinum (top) trim line; 8 passenger seating not available on Platinum; [inefficient design of interior space-- UPDATE: I was wrong. After a second look at the 3rd row, it is much roomier that my first impressions].
____________________

I test drove the 2008 Toyota Sequoia on Monday, immediately after taking a Land Rover LR3 HSE out for a spin. I'm glad I did that because with both vehicles fresh in my mind it was easy to pick out the differences and see which features I liked better....

I used to own a 2003 Toyota Sequoia. We bought it back when we had only 3 kids and I loved the amount of space there was inside. Eight adults could have sat in there very comfortably. It was also quite capable off-road and I enjoyed taking it out with the family on the weekends just to see how far we could go before we got stuck :BIGGRIN:.

However, after awhile I grew tired of its size--especially when trying to find parking at the local mall--and of the way it drove like an appliance: reliable, but without character. Our Sequoia got traded-in for something on the other side of the spectrum: a 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

It's with these concerns in the back of my head that I went back to look at the newly re-designed 2008 Toyota Sequoia. The new Sequoia is now bigger and more powerful than before. But is it better?

There's no mistaking its massive size. The new body style emphasizes it's bulk and even from a distance you can tell right away how big it is. I'm 5'10" and the top of the Sequoia's hood comes up to my shoulders!

Luckily, the new 5.7L V8 engine from the Tundra is also in the Sequoia, and at 381 HP there's more than enough power to haul the beast around. In fact, there are several things on the Sequoia that help hide its size. First is the engine. Second is it's tight turning radius. Third is it's 6-speed transmission.

Just like many new vehicles with automatic transmissions, there are two drive modes: Normal and Sport. When in Sport mode, the throttle response is very quick and there is almost no hesitation at all. The Platinum model also has an adjustable suspension setting that can be switched to Sport, Normal, or Comfort. Between Sport and Comfort there was a subtle but noticeable difference. Of course I preferred Sport mode. I found that the ride was still comfortable, but just a little more firm and made the Sequoia just a little more flat through the corners. Much improved over our 2003 Sequoia and more sporty than the Land Rover LR3 I just tested. All of those things made it feel like the 2008 Sequoia was a lot smaller than it really was.

Unfortunately, looking through the windshield over the massive hood, or out the side windows peering down at people in sedans (and other SUV-wannabes) way down below you, never lets you forget how big the Sequoia really is. Now that by itself, I might be able to overlook if only the interior space was more intelligently designed for large families like ours.

The biggest disappointment is in the 3rd row. When my wife and I both sat back there, we didn't feel that there was very much room for a third person. It didn't look to us to be very wide at all. I know that the specifications say that the 2008 Sequoia has more third row shoulder room than either the 2003 Sequoia or the 2006 Honda Odyssey, but it just didn't feel that way. It felt like the 3rd row would be better suited to 2 passengers not 3, let alone the two wide high-back booster seats and our 9-year-old in between like we have on our Odyssey right now. The 1st and 2nd rows are absolutely cavernous. But, really, my wife and I don't need that much room as driver and passenger and would probably prefer not having a file cabinet between us--yes, the center console has a spot for hanging file folders! We would like some of that space moved to the back.

UPDATE: I went back to the Toyota dealership today after writing this review to take another look at the 3rd row on the Sequoia. I brought our two high-back booster seats to test out and my initial impression of the lack of space was wrong. The 3rd row is much more roomier than our Honda Odyssey. There's plenty of room to sit in the middle and I think it will be much more comfortable--far from the 2nd class accommodations I thought it was.

If the Sequoia's 3rd row could only fit 2 people effectively, it would make the Platinum trim only a a 6-passenger vehicle for us--meaning that it would not be suitable. We would need to go down a trim level to the Limited to get the 2nd row bench and extra seat. UPDATE: Although getting the Limited is no longer "required," having the extra seat in the second row would be very handy. We are severely "limited" by Toyota Canada in choosing options so in addition to losing things like the ventilated seats, the Limited also loses navigation and a back-up camera. I believe that in a vehicle this size a back-up camera is essential.

In reality, I'm glad not to have the Toyota navigation system because it will not even allow the passenger to make changes to the destination while the vehicle is moving. You must be in "Park" to make changes. If I had to do that during our across-the-USA road trip last summer, I would have pulled my hair out and given the Nav system a swift kick! After market is the solution and with that a back-up camera can also be easily had.

What I might miss the most in downgrading to the Sequoia Limited might be the adjustable sport suspension. I'm going to have to go back for another test drive of the Limited to see how the ride quality compares the Platinum. Maybe at that time I'll bring in the booster seats to see how much room there really is in the 3rd row.


Summary: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Platinum

PROS: 5.7L V8 engine with 381 HP, firm handling, and 6-speed transmission all hide its massive size; low-gear transfer case for off-roading; space behind 3rd row is enough to fit Peg Perego Pliko P3 stroller.

CONS: Massive size; restrictive navigation system; Nav/backup camera only available on Platinum (top) trim line; 8 passenger seating not available on Platinum; [inefficient design of interior space--UPDATE: I was wrong. After a second look at the 3rd row, it is much roomier that my first impressions].

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Test Drive: 2006 Land Rover LR3 HSE

SUMMARY: 2008 Land Rover LR3 HSE

PROS: Looks, luxury, ruggedness, fun off-road tech gadgets, flexible seating configuration, open "airy" interior, large windows=great visibility, HID headlamps.

CONS: Seats tricky to fold and unfold, soft suspension, minimal space behind the third row, reliability(?).
____________________

I have a terrible track record for keeping cars and in the last several years, I haven't been able to keep one longer than 5 years before I traded it in for something new. I'm starting to get that feeling again so on Monday, I went out to a Land Rover dealership to test drive the LR3....

What attracted me to the LR3 at first was its looks. I've always admired the new design that was introduced in 2005. The clean modern lines and luxury headlight treatment coupled with its off-road DNA always made it desirable to me. A couple of weeks ago when I first popped in to take a look at it's 7-passenger configuration, I got really excited.

The LR3 can seat 7 people in a 2+3+2 setup. I was impressed with the room in the 3rd row because at 5' 10" (178 cm) I could sit back there without hitting my knees against the 2nd row seat-back. The theatre-style seating and tall roof with 2nd and 3rd row glass roof panels gave me plenty of headroom and an open, spacious feeling. The nice thing about the 2nd row is that can split 35/30/35 so there's a lot of versatility. We need something that will fit 5 children: 1 x Rear-facing, 1 x Front-facing, 2 x boosters, and 1 x slim 9-year-old. The LR3 seemed to have that flexibility to suit our needs. Also, the space behind the 3rd row looke a bit larger than some other cars I've looked at (including the disappointingly tight 2008 Toyota Highlander). One of the advantages of the LR3's split-opening hatch is that it would give us the ability to pile things up in the back without having to worry about falling out. The only problem with the the 2nd and 3rd rows is that folding them seems a bit puzzle-like and definitely not as simple as other vehicles I've seen.

Although we talked to the salesperson about about the 2008 LR3 HSE, I knew that used LR3s were very plentiful and heavily discounted. I wanted the HSE for its V8 engine and navigation system. Unfortunately, Land Rover suffers from a poor-reliability reputation that may or may not be deserving. That means a 2006 model LR3 HSE with full options like adaptive lighting and an electric cooling box can be bought for around $45,000 CAD. Since there have not been major changes over the years, it's a huge savings over a similarly equipped new 2008 LR3 HSE that has a MSRP of almost $70,000 CAD. When it was time to finally go out on the test drive, we were given a 2006 LR3 HSE.

Actually, the first LR3 we tried broke down. This Land Rover dealership had a rock obstacle at the side of the building where salespeople could demonstrate the off-road capabilities of their vehicles. When our salesperson activated the Terrain Response system to Rock Crawling and tried to switch the transfer case into low gear, the LR3 just wouldn't do it. In the 4x4 information display on the NAV screen I noticed a red dash flashing above each front wheel but I didn't know what it meant--I'm sure it wasn't good. We moved to a different vehicle and were able to go over the rock obstacle without any problems. I have to admit it was quite impressive. It was kind of like the sort of the challenge that I would look for when we used to go off-roading in our 2003 Toyota Sequoia. I'm not sure if the the Sequoia could have done it with such ease and in a tight space as in the LR3. While we were going up the rocks, though, I did think to myself: "I'm not going to do this kind of off-roading any more. I've grown out of it."

Sitting behind the wheel of the LR3 is very nice. Right away I notice the tall side windows and the large side mirrors. Visibility is great. The seats are comfortable and it feels like everything is within easy reach. On the road, I didn't get a chance to test the performance of the the 300 hp V8 engine, but it seemed to pull the LR3 reasonably well. It has a 6-speed transmission that you can switch from normal to sport mode. You can also do your own sequential shifting if you want. There actually was a noticeable improvement in performance when set in sport mode. Gears are held a bit longer and acceleration seemed more smooth and the throttle response was quicker. That would definitely be what I would want it set at all the time, but I'm sure that doesn't do fuel consumption any good!

The air suspension on the LR3 is nice. You can set the car to "Access" height so that it lowers 2" to make it easier to get in and out of the car. It makes a noticeable difference because I could touch the ground easily when I stepped out. On the road the LR3 is very comfortable. The prescribed route we took covered some rural roads with cracked, undulating pavement and the LR3 handled it all with very quiet luxury. Because of the softness of the suspension, there was slight body roll that reminds you that the LR3 really is a truck, but the ride quality is very nice and the roll is minimal. I had driven my Subaru STI with sport suspension out for the day, so coming from that I'm sure anything else I drove that day would feel soft!

The last test was when we got back to the dealership. I brought our Peg Perego Pliko P3 umbrella stroller to see if it would fit behind the 3rd row. I admit that compared to other umbrella strollers, this one is a bit more bulky but we love it because it can carry a 2nd child standing in the back. Besides, using the stroller to compare storage space between different vehicles will give us a much better reference point. Unfortunately, the LR3 was not deep enough to fit the wheels and was short by a couple of inches. Does that mean that the LR3 is out of contention? I'd hate to base a $50,000 purchase on a simple thing like a stroller (since a regular umbrella stroller for $25 would fit no problem) but it makes it harder to choose the LR3 to be our Number One.

SUMMARY: 2008 Land Rover LR3 HSE

PROS: Looks, luxury, ruggedness, fun off-road tech gadgets, flexible seating configuration, open "airy" interior, large windows=great visibility, HID headlamps.

CONS: Seats tricky to fold and unfold, soft suspension, minimal space behind the third row, reliability(?).



The next test drive: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Platinum.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Your Online Auto Portal

Over the years I’ve discovered that I like shopping for cars. I haven’t been able to keep any of our vehicles longer than 5 years before I start getting the itch for something new. And I can see that the cycle is repeating. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of research trying to find something that could replace both our Subaru Impreza WRX STI and our Honda Odyssey Touring. In the process, I found a site called CarSeek.com.

At CarSeek.com you can find an incredible amount of information about all sorts of new vehicles from sub-compacts, sports cars and luxury sedans to latest the cross-overs and hybrids. Each auto manufacturer is represented by model reviews, history, specifications, pricing options, photos, and rebate information. On top of all that information, there are links to the latest automotive news as well as articles about recent trends like electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells.

One of the things I really like about CarSeek.com is that it is really easy to find what you are looking for and all the information is very logically organized. On the left sidebar, you click one of the auto manufacturers to get background information about the company and a list of all their latest models. There’s even historical information about different makes and models that I found quite interesting. Clicking on one of the vehicle models gives you specific reviews, specs, and pricing options.

What I found particularly valuable at CarSeek.com is in a section underneath the car reviews where competitor’s vehicles are placed in three different groups: a comparable price range, a comparable body style, and a premium body style. Sometimes when I’m researching information about one vehicle, I like to know what else is out there just to keep my options open. Having vehicles grouped like that makes it really easy to look at a vehicle I might not have known about before.

CarSeek.com also goes beyond just showing you what the latest rebates are on the car you want: it also shows you what rebates are available on competing models. No extra work is required, all the information is right on one page for you to look at. This is a great thing for people who may be trying to decide between very similar vehicles. Seeing that a competitor is offering a better rebate might make it easier for someone to make a decision on which car is right for them.

Once you’ve decided on the vehicle you want and are ready to buy, getting a free online quote from CarSeek.com is as simple as clicking a button at the top of the page. There are even links to guide you through auto loan financing and insurance.


Note: This is a sponsored blog review.

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